Wrongful death cases in Georgia are unique in many respects. Unlike some personal injury cases, there are actually two separate and distinct claims for wrongful death. Another aspect to these claims is the ‘hierarchy of people,’ such as a spouse or a child, that are permitted to bring a claim. Damages are recoverable by both the estate of the deceased person and the wrongful death claim itself. Notably, the full value of a person’s life is measured from the perspective of the deceased person, as opposed to the perspective of that person’s family and friends.
TWO TYPES OF WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIMS
While it’s understood that a wrongful death case stems from the loss of a loved one, many people are unfamiliar with the underlying legal claims. There are actually two different claims. The first claim is a traditional wrongful death action, and the second is a separate and distinct claim brought by the estate of the deceased person.
THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
The statute of limitations means the time allowed to bring a case before it is barred by Georgia law. In Georgia, there is typically a two-year statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim. Depending on certain facts and circumstances, this period may be longer or shorter for a case. The statute of limitations begins to run at the time of the negligent act. For example, a loved one may have been in a serious tractor-trailer accident and been hospitalized for several weeks before ultimately losing his or her life. The statute of limitations begins to run at the time of the negligent act, i.e. the accident, as opposed to the time the person passed away. This situation often presents itself when a person survives for many months or perhaps even years after the accident so the key is obtaining legal counsel right away to ensure the at-fault party will be held accountable under the law.
A HIERARCHY OF PEOPLE
Georgia law basically has established a hierarchy of relatives who are permitted to bring a wrongful death case. The purpose of this system is to avoid multiple family members bringing identical claims. The order is rather intuitive, as follows:
DAMAGES FOR THE WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM
As a general framework, the damages for this part of the claim again are the “full value” of the life of the deceased person measured from his or her own perspective. The factors are both economic and non-economic. The economic factors include the amount of lost wages assuming the person was working at the time of his or her death. To calculate this amount, it is important to consider the deceased person’s salary, job benefits, like a 401(k) and bonuses. Whereas, the non-economic factors include the intangible value of missing his or her children, a lifetime with his or her spouse along with the enjoyments of daily life. Establishing a concrete monetary figure is a difficult process because compensation can never truly heal a family, but there are tools such as a life-expectancy table to understand the likely amount of time lost as a result of an untimely death.
DAMAGES FOR THE ESTATE CLAIM
As a threshold matter, an estate needs to be set up for the deceased person. If the deceased person left with a will, then there will most likely be a representative for the estate. If, however, the person did not have a will, which is called intestate, then there is a set of laws in Georgia to determine the representative. The representative will have the authority to hire an attorney, dictate the course of the case, and ultimately agree to a settlement.
While it is relatively easy to calculate some parts of the estate claim, such a funeral costs and medical expenses, the more challenging part is determining whether or not there was pain and suffering for the deceased person. If the person immediately lost his or her life, then there may not be a claim. Interestingly though, Georgia law does allow recovery for even a few seconds of conscious pain. If the person lived for a period of time, then there will be a claim for pain and suffering for the estate. The decision is left to the “enlightened wisdom of a fair and impartial jury.” This standard is obviously a bit ambiguous so it is crucial to have an attorney, doctor(s), and other experts that will make a clear presentation to the jury about the scope of the pain and suffering for the deceased person.
If you have lost a loved one because of the negligence of another person or company, then please contact us right away for your free consultation. We understand that these are truly challenging times for you and your family members and will treat you with the utmost compassion and respect. At the same time, we will make sure to gather all of the critical information to advance your case to ensure the justice your lost loved one deserves. Kevin can be reached at email@example.com or (404) 566-5880.